The Greenhouse Effect

The Earth needs the natural greenhouse effect. It is the process in which the emission of infrared radiation by the atmosphere warms the planet's surface. The atmosphere naturally acts as an insulating blanket, which is able to trap enough solar energy to keep the global average temperature in a comfortable range in which to support life. This insulating blanket is actually a collection of several atmospheric gases, some of them in such small amounts that they are referred to as trace gases.

The framework in which this system works is often referred to as the greenhouse effect because this global system of insulation is similar to that which occurs in a greenhouse nursery for plants. The gases are relatively transparent to incoming visible light from the Sun, yet opaque to the energy radiated from the Earth.

These gases are the reason why the Earth's atmosphere does not scorch during the day and freeze at night. Instead, the atmosphere contains molecules that absorb and reradiate the heat in all directions, which reduces the heat lost back to space. It is the greenhouse gas molecules that keep the Earth's temperature ranges within comfortable limits. Without the natural greenhouse effect, life would not be possible on Earth. In fact, without the greenhouse effect to regulate the atmospheric temperature, the Sun's heat would escape and the average temperature would drop from 57°F to -2.2°F (14°C to -18°C); a temperature much too cold to support the diversity of life that exists today on the planet.

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